Simple steps, such as hand washing and covering the mouth, could prove helpful in reducing pandemic flu transmission, experts say.
However, in the May issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, a University of Michigan study team cautions that more research is needed to assess the true effectiveness of so called “non-pharmaceutical interventions” aimed at slowing the spread of pandemic flu.
Such measures include those not based on vaccines or antiviral treatments.
On an individual level, these measures can include frequent washing of the hands with soap, wearing a facemask and/or covering the mouth while coughing or sneezing, and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
On a broader, community-based level, other influenza-containment measures can include school closings, the restriction of public gatherings, and the promotion of home-based work schedules, the researchers noted.
“The recent influenza A (H1N1) pandemic may provide us with an opportunity to address many research gaps and ultimately create a broad, comprehensive strategy for pandemic mitigation,” lead author Allison E. Aiello, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said in a news release. “However, the emergence of this pandemic in 2009 demonstrated that there are still more questions than answers.”
She added: “More research is urgently needed.”
The call for more investigation into the potential benefit of non-pharmaceutical interventions stems from a fresh analysis of 11 prior studies funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and conducted between 2007 and 2009.
The current review found that the public adopted some protective measures more readily than others. Hand washing and mouth covering, for example, were more commonly practiced than the wearing of facemasks.
However, overall, the analysis did uncover evidence suggesting that better coughing etiquette, assorted hygienic measures, and crowd control do collectively reduce influenza risk.
Nevertheless, Aiello’s team said that to get a more accurate handle on the effectiveness of such interventions, new larger studies now need to be launched over longer time frames. Such investigations should also be designed around uniform benchmarks, the research team said.